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The Day After the Funeral

The stock markets and the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” and the rest of the news took a day off on Wednesday for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, but the pause offered little respite for current President Donald Trump.
In keeping with its classy ways the Bush family invited Trump to attend the state funeral at the National Cathedral, although they didn’t grant him the traditional eulogy that sitting presidents give for past presidents, and to his credit Trump was on his best behavior. He was clearly uncomfortable, though, sitting next to the former president he had falsely accused of being unqualified by virtue of a foreign birth, and the former president he had falsely accused of lying America into a war, and the former First Lady he has long vowed to lock up, as well another former president he has called the second-worst ever. Worse yet, Trump had to sit through several speakers praising Bush’s war heroism and expert statesmanship and gentlemanly demeanor and and genuine compassion for others and self-effacing sense of humor, and perhaps contemplate how even his most die-hard fans won’t be able to say the same at his own inevitable funeral.
Worst of all, Trump surely knew that the stock markets and the special counsel investigation and the rest of the news all resume today, and that it’s not likely to make him look good.
The rest of the world’s stock markets were open for business on Wednesday, and were just as panicked about Trump’s trade war with China as the American markets were on Tuesday, and today probably won’t bring that greatest-ever deal that Trump has promised with China. Trump might yet bully the all-powerful Chinese government and its formidable economy into submission, but for now the stock markets aren’t betting on it.
The mainstream media that used torment Bush for his mostly forgotten missteps spent most of Wednesday heaping praise on his war heroism and expert statesmanship and gentlemanly demeanor and everything else they suddenly miss about a bygone era of compassionate Republican conservatism, but they also found some time to speculate about some scary developments in the special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing.” Trump’s former campaign foreign policy advisor and short-lived administration national security advisor, the former three-starArmy Gen. Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty to some serious felonies and stands credibly accused of several more, and on Tuesday it was revealed in open court that the special counsel is recommending no jail time partly because of the defendant’s long and distinguished military record but mostly because he’d been a genuinely repentant and very helpful witness in three ongoing criminal investigations. Special counsel Robert Mueller is a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War himself and is no doubt taking Flynn’s undeniably distinguished pre-Trump career into account, but we doubt that Flynn would have gotten such a sweet deal without providing some pretty damning testimony along with documentation to back it up, so it will be interesting to see what Trump “tweets” about it today.
Trump is already “tweeting” some controversial “tweets” about his longtime lawyer and former campaign manager and a longtime pal with a very unsavory reputation dating back to the Nixon days, and his namesake son and favorite daughter and son-in-law are also caught up in “Russia thing” stories, and it’s getting harder for all but the most die-hard Trump fans to dismiss it all as “fake news.” The rest of the news, from the Korean peninsula to the soon-to-be-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, is similarly foreboding. Trump might yet strike that artful deal that makes America great again, but for now both ourselves and the smart money aren’t betting on it.

— Bud Norman

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Which Lie to Believe?

Go right ahead and believe that the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing” is a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine President Donald Trump, but after Thursday’s developments you should at least admit he’s doing a damned good job of it. Even if you buy the apologists’ explanations for the latest undisputed facts, none of them make Trump look good.
The first big story of the day was that longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had entered a second guilty plea, this time for lying to a congressional committee about when Trump ceased negotiations with the Russian government to build a skyscraper in Moscow, which was long after Trump started assuring Republican primary voters that he had no business pending with Russia. Cohen’s first guilty plea involved his negotiations with a pornographic video performer and a Playboy centerfold model to buy their silence about alleged and quite credible extra-marital affairs with the candidate, which arguably involved violations of campaign finance disclosure laws, and clearly implicated Trump in the apparent conspiracy, and although Trump’s religious right supporters mostly shrugged that off the part about Trump seeking shady dealings with a hostile foreign power are more troublesome.
Trump’s apologists can rightly note that Cohen is a self-confessed liar, but that doesn’t do Trump much good. Trump’s new lawyers have already conceded that Trump was involved in the hush money payments to the porn star and the nudie model, even though Trump had previously denied it, and we expect they’ll eventually concede that Trump knew that negotiations for a Trump tower in Moscow had continued long after Trump denied it to the Republican primary electorate and general public, and the courts of law and public opinion will have to choose which liar to believe. Our guess is that the both courts will eventually side with the liar whose liberty is now dependent on telling the provable truth, and Cohen is known as the sort of lawyer who records telephone conversations and maintaining signed documents and contemporaneous notes about his shady wheeling-dealings, and the special counsel has a decades-long reputation as the meticulous sort of prosecutor who insists on such corroborating evidence before offering the testimony of a self-confessed liar.
Meanwhile, former Trump campaign chairman and self-confessed liar Paul Manafort is still in jail and has lately lost his plea bargain arrangement by reverting to his previous claims that Russia had nothing to do with Trump, who has said that a presidential pardon of Manafort is “not off the table.” Manafort’s longtime lobbying-for-dictators business partner is longtime Trump friend Roger Stone, who has a tattoo of President Richard Nixn on on his back and has been a proudly notorious dirty-trickster since the Watergate days, and he’s telling the press that he expects to be soon indicted by special counsel for being the go-between from the Trump campaign to the Russia-aligned Wikileaks operation that leaked all the embarrassing information about that awful Hillary Clinton who was Trump’s Democratic opponent in the election. Stone’s longtime associate Jerome Corsi, a Harvard-educated nutcase conspiracist who launched the claim that President Barack Obama was a Kenyan-born pretender to the presidency, which launched Trump’s political career, has lately rejected a plea-bargain deal from the special and is going on cable television without benefit of counsel and insisting on a version of events that implicates pretty much everyone.
Maybe they’re all damnable lairs telling damnable lies, even at the the risk of their liberty, but in any case we can’t see how any of it makes Trump look good. Another one of Trump’s promises to the Republican electorate and the general public was that he’d make America great again by hiring only the very best people, and at this point one of his many long time lawyers and one of his former campaign managers and a former campaign foreign policy advisor and and administration national security advisor and decades-old friend are either in jail or awaiting sentencing or have struck deals to keep them out of jail or are currently negotiating their terms on cable television. By now no one bothers to deny that Trump is also a daily liar, and if the longtime cronies he now accuses of lying are the very best people America has to offer we’re all in a sorry state.
Perhaps this “deep state” conspiracy really is so darned Hollywood good that it makes this esteem cast of characters seem somehow unsavory, but we doubt it. Our guess is that the story continues, and eventually comes to an unhappy conclusion for all.

— Bud Norman

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Now Is the Winter of Trump’s Discontent

You might have already noticed, along with most of the country, that President Donald Trump has been in a foul mood lately. He’s never been a sunny sort of fellow, which seems to endear him to his most die-hard fans, but he’s somehow ratcheted up the surliness since the mid-term elections. One unnamed administration official reportedly the Cable News Network that “he’s pissed at damned near everyone,” and judging by Trump’s “tweets” and interactions with reporters and behind-the-scenes diplomacy with the French and English heads of state and general public demeanor that doesn’t sound like fake news.
Those midterm elections surely have something to do with it. In a day-after news conference Trump claimed “almost a total victory” even though the Democrats had won control of the House of Representatives and only slightly padded a thin majority in the Senate, but he was already lashing out at the reporters with more than his usual vituperation, and since the late votes have padded that Democratic House majority and whittled away at the slight Republican Senate majority. It was surely a blow to Trump’s ego, as a Kansas gubernatorial candidate and Montana Senate and an Arizona Senate candidate and several other Republican contenders that Trump had worked hard for went down to defeat in states Trump won, but henceforth it’s an even bigger problem for him than that. A Democratic majority in the House will not only deny him a border wall or mass deportations or armed school teachers or any other big legislative wins to brag about to his die-hard fans, and except for a big tax cut bill that’s not polling well with everyone else he didn’t rack up many wins even with two years of Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress.
Worse yet, the Democratic majorities in all those pesky oversight committees can now commence hearings on all sorts of Trump matters, from potentially illegal payoffs to porn stars and Playboy models to the profits Trump’s businesses are making from his presidency to quite a few apparent ethics violations by several of his cabinet members, among other things, and we expect they’ll come up with something that sticks. Trump still has that slim majority in the Senate, but some of those Republican Senators will be running for reelection in two years in states that Trump lost in ’16 and looks likely to lose again in ’12, and party loyalty is a rare commodity in the Republican party at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue these days.
There’s already a bipartisan consensus to protect a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” too, and that can’t help lighten Trump’s mood. The investigation took a couple of months off from issuing subpoenas and indictments and forcing guilty pleas for a couple of months leading up to the midterms, but now that most of the races have been settled the investigators will soon be back to making infuriating headlines. Trump is already back to furiously “tweeting” about it, and at length.
“The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess,” one “tweet” said. “They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t … care how many lives the ruin” That capital N on nation and “the ruin” rather than “they ruin” are his mistakes and not ours, by the way. Trump continued that “These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, worked for Obama for 8 years. They won’t even look at all of the bad acts on crimes on the other side. A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!”
Which suggests to us that the president is in an especially ill temper, and thus might not be thinking quite so calmly and clearly as a President of the United States probably should.
By all appearances the inner workings of the special counsel investigation are far more effluence than those of the Trump White House, and although Trump has direct knowledge of what the investigation has learned about collusion he sure seems worried about it. He seems to offer no evidence that the investigation is extorting false testimony from its witnesses, nor any evidence that the duly appointed Justice Department officials overseeing the investigation and the duly appointed federal judges signing off on the subpoenas and accepting the guilty pleas are in on what would surely be the most extraordinary conspiracy ever. Special Counsel Robert Mueller did indeed serve as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation under Democratic President Barack Obama, but he was first appointed to the job by Republican President George W. Bush, and the fact that he had bipartisan support to extend his tenure into a Democratic administration used to be considered a testament to his character and ability.
As for all that about the special counsel investigators being “Angry People” and “going absolutely nuts” and “screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening people until they get the answer they want,” this strikes us as a classic example of what the pop psychologists call “projection.” You might have noticed that Mueller and his crew are a very calm low-key bunch, not at all prone to CAPITAL LETTERS AND EXCLAMATION MARKS, who let their guilty verdicts and guilty pleas speak for themselves, and we suspect that probably just further infuriates Trump.
Perhaps the whole “Russia thing” will ultimately prove a witch hunt, but that seems all the more reason for Trump to be calm about it, rather than appoint a political hack to run the Justice Department and give the Democrats something else to investigate. Perhaps Trump and the congressional Democrats will come up with some criminal justice reform and campaign-promised infrastructure spending that at long last proves Trump’s claim to be a master deal-maker, but that’s all the more reason for Trump to stop insulting their intelligence. He’ll need a unified Republican party along the way, too, which is all the more reason to stop feuding with those poor congressional Republicans who will be running next time around in states and districts that Trump lost last time and probably lose next time around.
Not to mention the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula that Trump prematurely claimed to have solved, the ongoing Russian meddling in American politics that Trump still downplays, those trade wars that haven’t yet proved good and easily won as promised, a swelling national debt, and various other national problems. All of these issues require a presidential level of calm and clear deliberation, and none can be solved without an angry outburst no matter how many capital letters and exclamation marks one might use.

— Bud Norman

“Flipping” One’s Way to the Truth

Anyone who’s ever seen “The Godfather Part II” or countless other crime dramas well knows how federal investigations into criminal enterprises go. First they catch some low-level figure red-handed, then they offer a lighter sentence if he’ll “flip” with corroborated testimony about the next-higher player in the conspiracy, who in turn is caught dead-to-rights and offered a lighter sentence in exchange for corroborated testimony about the next guy, and the process continues until eventually the kingpin winds up on trial.
So it seems to be going with special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing,” which has already secured guilty pleas and corroborated testimony from three people associated with President Donald Trump’s campaign and his administration’s former national security advisor, as well as his longtime personal lawyer, and on Thursday The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s longtime personal friend who runs The National Enquirer has been granted full immunity from prosecution to join the witness list.
It’s an effective time honored investigative technique and cinematic plot line, long upheld by judicial precent and cheered by movie audiences, but Trump is now calling it a rigged system. Appearing on the Fox News Network’s “Fox and Friends” program, which should be the safest place for him in the ¬†entire vast media spectrum, Trump wound up almost saying it almost should be illegal.
“I’ve seen it many times,” Trump said. “I’ve had many friends involved in this stuff. It’s called ‘flipping’ and ii almost ¬†should be illegal. You get ten years in jail, but if you make up stuff about people, in other words make up stories, they just make up lies … They make up things and they go from ten years to a national hero. They have a statue erected in their honor.”
All of which strikes us as hogwash, and conspicuously desperate hogwash at that. We’re not sure which of of Trump’s friends in the notoriously corrupt New York real estate business he’s seen involved in this stuff, but we assume he’s talking about some of the mobsters who were also represented by past Trump lawyer Roy Cohn, and we note that a number of them were put rightly put in prison after several plea agreements by Trump’s current lawyer and formerly formidable federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani. We also note that although a number of lower-ranking figures got off with light sentences in those cases, they always had corroborating evidence to go along with their admittedly dubious testimony that they’re weren’t making things up, and that none of them ever had a statue erected in their honor, and you’d need a very cynical view of the longstanding traditions of the American system of justice and the American way of doing things more generally to argue about the outcomes.
Although it’s only tangentially related to the “Russia thing,” Trump is apparently worried about the “flipped” testimony of his longtime personal lawyer and his longtime friend at The National Enquirer regarding some six-figures payments that were made during the campaign to a pornographic video performer and a former Playboy centerfold model who alleged they’d had sexual encounters with Trump shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child. Cheating on one’s wife isn’t a crime, and former President Bill Clinton and a few other predecessors have established a precedent that it’s not an impeachable offense, but in this case Trump’s former lawyer has pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws at the president’s request and with the president’s money, and in any case a pornographic video performer and a former Playboy playmate were indisputably givensix-figures hugh-money payments from Trump’s account it’s damned hard for a president to explain to a First Lady.
Longtime Trump lawyer and now=-confessed felon Michael Cohen also figures in the bigger “Russia thing,” as he was the admittedly and under-oath go-to guy for a Moscow skyscraper deal Trump was pursuing even as he promised the Republican primary voters he had no deals whatsoever going on with Russia. So far there’s no telling what he has to say about that, and he’s now a confessed felon, but after the special counsel investigation seized all the tape-recordings and documents and hand-written notes from his home and office and hotel room we expect they’ll have corroborating evidence. So far the public has already heard a leaked audio recording of Trump working out the details of the hush-money payments to the aforementioned porn star and Playboy model with his former lawyer, which Trump had repeatedly lied about having any knowledge of, and we expect that worse is yet to come.
There’s no denying that Trump’s former friends and lawyers and campaign officials and administration appointees are an unsavory bunch, and that their testimony shouldn’t be taken seriously without some convincingly corroborating documentary evidence, but we expect that evidence will be forthcoming, and even in the best-case scenario it looks pretty damned bad for Trump.

— Bud Norman

The Much-Ballyhooed IG’s Report and the Brouhaha About the “Russia Thing”

A much-anticipated report from a Justice Department inspector general was released on Thursday, and for now President Donald Trump and his die-hard defenders are having great fun with it. The report is harshly critical of the Federal Bureau of Investigation director that Trump fired, includes some further suspicious e-mails between two outspokenly anti-Trump FBI employees briefly involved in the ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing,” and otherwise provides fodder for the “deep state” conspiracy theories that Trump and his die-hard defenders are counting on.
In the infuriatingly long run of the investigation into to the “Russia thing,” however, it doesn’t at all vindicate Trump.
The inspector general’s report is critical of fired FBI director James Comey for breaking with longstanding agency policy by publicly acknowledging an investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices, and publicly chastising her for “extreme carelessness” even as he declined to recommend a prosecution on the legal standard of “gross negligence,” and then publicly announcing the investigation was once again underway after some of those e-mails turned up on the computer of former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, who was the husband of long-time Clinton aide Huma Abedin and was being investigated for sending lewd photos of his private parts to underage women. Candidate Trump praised Comey’s “courage” for breaching longstanding agency policy during the campaign, nobody believed President Trump’s short-lived explanation that he fired Comey for being so unfair to Clinton, and by that very evening he was admitting to Lester Holt’s national television audience on the National Broadcasting Company that he was thinking about Comey’s ongoing investigation into “this ‘Rusher’ thing with Trump and Russia” when he decided on the firing.
By now every talk-radio listener or Fox News viewer knows that FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who were reportedly carrying on an extra-marital affair at the time, had exchanged texts and e-mails about how awful candidate Trump was, but they probably don’t know that love-birds also had some equally harsh things to say about Clinton and her openly socialist primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders. We don’t approve of their reportedly illicit relationship, although we hate to see that redound to the benefit of the boastfully adulterous Trump, and except for the foul language we can’t say we much we disagree with any of the opinions they texted or e-mailed, There was some previously texted and e-mailed conversation about a “secret society” that would provide an “insurance policy” in the unlikely case of a Trump presidency, and the IG’s report had him assuring his lover that Trump wouldn’t win, but at this point in the Trump presidency that seems the false bravado of a petty bureaucrat, and not the stuff of a “deep state” conspiracy.
More importantly, when special counsel Robert Mueller took over the “Russia thing” investigation in the wake of Comey’s firing he immediately demoted both Strzok and Page from the matter because of their e-mails and texts, and the numerous indictments ad several guilty pleas he’s already won are untainted by any of this. The e-mail chain Donald Trump Jr. released where he responded to an offer by a Russian music publicist he knew to be a Russian operative offering that adversarial government’s help in the election by saying “I love it” still exists. The Trump campaign’s past foreign policy advisor and the Trump administration’s since-fired Trump administration national security advisor’s guilty plea to lying about his dealings with the Russkies has yet to be pardoned. The Trump campaign’s fired campaign manager is still fighting charges of illegal dealings with the Russkies, among other things, and Trump’s longtime lawyer is likely to be charged any day now about his deal to pay off a porn star on a Delaware shall company that also had some Russkie-linked company deposits on its ledger.
If there’s a “deep state” conspiracy afoot here, it seems such an inept work of petty bureaucrats that Trump and his die-hard defenders shouldn’t mind. The much-anticipated IG’s report finds that the fired Comey acknowledged and re-eacknowledged a federal investigation into Clinton’s “extreme carelessness” and then announced it was renewing the investigation after some salacious e-mail’s on a close aide’s pervert husband’s laptop, which Trump lauded as courageous at the time and surely did the awful Clinton’s candidacy no good. At no point did the fired FBI director publicly divulge there was also a ongoing investigation into the conformed-by-all-the-intelligence-agency’s conclusion about Russian meddling on in the election of Trump’s behalf and a few of his campaign’s and administrations past high-ranking officials who had previously been suspected of being too friendly with the Russkie, which did o harm at the time to Trump. It all wound up with the presidency of Trump, which no one can deny, albeit with all the lingering doubts about it.

— Bud Norman

Our Monday Answer to Thursday’s News

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing” will be a year old on Thursday, and we can already guess how almost everybody will mark the anniversary.
President Donald Trump’s die-hard defenders on talk radio and other right-wing media will loudly argue that if a year of dogged digging hasn’t produced a iron-clad case that the Trump campaign aided the Russian government’s efforts to meddle in the past presidential and the Trump administration then attempted to obstruct the various investigations into the matter, they might as well concede defeat and close up shop.
These are the same pundits who cheered on the special prosecutors’ investigations into President Bill Clinton as they veered from the Whitewater land deal to an affair with a White House intern and stretched out over four years and wound up with a semen-stained blue dress. They also spent three years defending congressional investigations of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in the deadly fiasco at Benghazi, Libya, and it’s a sure bet that if Clinton had won the last presidential election they’d be eager to let the inevitable investigations into her e-mail practices and family foundation and various other matters take as long they required. Indeed, those same pundits are still chanting “lock her up” and don’t seem to care how long that might take.
There’s likely to be the same hypocrisy on the left, of course, as many of the same pundits and politicians who once decried the ever-widening scope and plodding pace of the many Clinton investigations will surely be insisting on Thursday that the Mueller investigation be granted wide latitude about hush money payments to porno performers and president’s personal lawyer’s receipt of big bucks from a Russian-linked firm and other matters as well as plenty of time to get the bottom of it all. Such is the nature of punditry and politics these days.
We didn’t care much for either of the Clintons, and were willing to be patient with whatever legal scrutiny they were subjected to, but neither do we care much for Trump, so without fear of accusations of hypocrisy we’re willing to grant Mueller wide latitude and as much time as he needs.
In this case, the wheels of justice seem to be grinding far faster than these political investigations usually proceed. Mueller’s investigation has already yielded 19 indictments of people and three companies associated with the Trump campaign and administration, including some high-profile guilty pleas including a campaign and administration national security advisor and jail time for some foreign lawyer you’ve never heard of, and several of the countless witnesses they’ve interviewed describe a team that already seems to know all the answers. The only people they haven’t yet interviewed are the ones a shrewd prosecutor such as Mueller would surely save for last, and someone who’s not on Mueller’s leak-proof ship has leaked an outline of 49 very hard-to-answer questions they intend to ask Trump himself in an interview they’re already negotiating with his ever-changing team of lawyers.
Which is not bad for a “witch hunt,” as Trump and his die-hard defenders continually describe Mueller’s investigation. Even without subpoena power the “fake news” media have forced the president’s namesake son to release an e-mail chain documenting his and his brother-in-law and the campaign manager’s meeting with a Russian-linked lawyer they understood to be acting on the Russian government’s behalf, the porno performer’s surprisingly shrewd lawyer has forced that Russian-linked company to admit that they did indeed make a huge payment to Trump’s surprisingly inept and defenestrated and under-investigation lawyer, and there are those high-profile indictments and guilty pleas, and by now enough of the “fake news” has been verified that only a hypocrite wouldn’t allow another few months to get the bottom of it.
In a few months a third of the Senate and all of the House of Representatives will be up for reelection, and we can already guess what a mess of hypocritical punditry and politics that will be. If the Mueller investigation comes up with an iron-clad case of conspiracy and obstruction by then the right will claim vindication for its conspiracy that it’s all a “deep state” plot to overthrow the president, and if it doesn’t the left will surely be plenty angry about it.
Although there’s no telling what time it will take, we expect that as always the truth will come out. At this point in time, we expect the truth will be embarrassing to Trump.
At the end of the long investigations of Bill he had to admit to an “improper relationship” with that White House intern, and although he escaped conviction in an impeachment trial he temporarily lost his law license and so tarnished his awful wife with her own thoroughly investigated scandals that wound up losing to the likes of Trump, but the same left that now has a zero-tolerance policy about sexual impropriety decided that it really didn’t care if the President of the United States was doing tawdry cigar tricks with a 25-year-old intern. If the end of the Trump investigations prove just as clearly that he conspired with a hostile foreign power to meddle in an American election we expect his ardent defenders and erstwhile cold warriors and champions of law and order to proclaim that’s no big deal.
Such is the state of American punditry and politics these days. We came of age during the two long years of the Watergate scandal before Nixon resigned, and have lived through similar outrages from both the left and right, so we’re resigned to a longer wait for the conclusion of this.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Imperfect Storm

That whole “Russia thing” has lately merged with those porn star and Playboy playmate scandals, and it all seems to be closing in on President Donald Trump.
Trump’s longtime lawyer and sex-scandal “fixer” Michael Cohen recently had his office and home and hotel raided by the Justice Department, and is widely expected to be indicted soon, and Trump’s most longtime lawyer is advising him that Cohen is almost certain to start providing state’s evidence in whatever matters might arise from all the seized files and recordings and other potential evidence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation director that Trump fired has a best-selling book full of newsworthy allegations, with Trump offering explanations for the firing that contradict his past statements, and efforts by Trump loyalists to discredit James Comey have resulted in the leaking of some formerly classified memos he wrote after his conversations with the president that contain even more newsworthy allegations. Meanwhile, the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” that resulted from Comey’s firing, which has already secured several indictments and guilty pleas and has prominent Trump campaign and administration officials fully cooperating, plods irresistibly along.
Trump has now added former star federal prosecutor and legendary New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to a legal team that’s been depleted by defections and impending indictments, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has vowed not to allow a vote on a bipartisan bill that would prevent Trump from firing the Justice Department officials he needs to replace in order to fire the special counsel and perhaps end the investigation into the “Russia thing” altogether. According to all the opinion polls he also has the support of about four-fifths of the Republican party, as well as the fierce apologetics of prominent voices on the talk radio airwaves and other right-wing media, but he nonetheless looks outgunned on all fronts.
Giuliani was a formidable lawyer who locked up a lot of New York City mobsters back in the ’80s, and his three terms as Mayor of New York in the ’90s saw crime and tax rtes decline dramatically while employment and and tax revenues and general quality of life soared, and his response to the Sept. 11, terror attack on the World Trade Center made him a national hero and Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 2001, but since then he’s been on a long losing streak. A sex scandal ended his second marriage and commenced his third, and once upon a time in the Republican party that sort of thing combined with the Republican party’s former suspicion of smartypants New Yorkers doomed his presidential campaign in the good old days of 2008. He cashed in with some lucrative lawyering and lobbying and consulting, but he largely faded from the news until he remerged as an advocate for his fellow New Yorker and serial philanderer and far less qualified friend Trump, who by then was palatable to a plurality of the Republican party.
Giuliani told the press that he expects to negotiate a quick end to the various criminal and counter-terrorism investigations regarding the “Russia thing,” which suggests to us that his legal skills have rusted over the past few years, and that his losing streak is likely to continue.
McConnell says he’s not going allow legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired because he doesn’t believe Trump would ever be stupid enough to fire him, but that doesn’t do Trump much good. A credibly accused child molester that Trump campaigned for lost a seemingly safe Senate seat in Alabama, Arizona Senator and erstwhile Republican hero John McCain is busy battling brain cancer, so the Republican majority in the Senate is down to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence, and McConnell is reviled as the epitome of the “Republican establishment” by the party’s pro-Trump “burn it down” wing and quickly losing control of his fractious and increasingly Trump-averse caucus. You can call the Cable News Network “fake news” all you want, but unless you think they can produce computer generated images more convincingly than Industrial Light and Magic they taped a full dozen big-name congressional Republicans who wouldn’t say on the record that they’re on board with Trump’s reelection.
Even if McConnell does somehow allow the president to fire the people he needs to fire the special counsel and put an end to the whole “Russia thing,” McConnell is quite right that it would be a damned dumb thing to do.
That fired FBI director’s best-selling book and widely publicized book tour is getting mixed reviews, as his seeming mishandling of the undeniably difficult problem of presiding over investigations of serious allegations of criminal activity by both major party candidates during a presidential election has made him a hated figure on both ends of the spectrum, and that storm should soon pass. Those memos Comey wrote in the lead-up to his firing are likely be more troublesome when these matters enter a court of law, though, and for all his undeniable and admitted flaws we’ll find Comey a more credible witness when it inevitably comes down to that.
At this point we can’t imagine what might shake that four-fifth of the Republican party’s faith in Trump, but we notice that some of the right-wing talk radio hosts are fulminating about Trump’s betrayals of his non-interventionist promises with his missile strikes in Syria and a possible betrayals on building a border wall and deporting all the “dreamers” and waging trade wars around the globe. By now all but the most protectionist and isolationist Democrats still hate Trump as much as ever, a fifth of the Republican party and at least a dozen prominent congressional Republicans are outspokenly unenthused about him, and our view from the sidelines sees Trump taking a licking on all fronts.

— Bud Norman

“Tweeting” Against the Tide

President Donald Trump’s “tweets” are clearly intended to convey cocksureness and toughness, and that’s how the die-hard fans see them. To our eyes they always look differently, and this past weekend’s voluminous output struck us as downright anxious and weak.
The most frequent of the topics Trump “tweeted” about was the Russia thing, of course. He gloated about the firing of a career Federal Bureau of Investigation official just 48 hours away from becoming eligible for a full pension, further impugned the character of the former FBI director he previously fired, and accused the bureau itself of widespread corruption in the process. Trump repeatedly “tweeted” about the special counsel’s investigation being a witch hunt — or “WITCH HUNT!” as he prefers to call it — and for the first time mentioned the name of Robert Mueller, the formidable former FBI director in charge.
The die-hard Trump fans will be pleased that “at least he fights,” as they always say, but we doubt that Mueller, a much-decorated combat veteran who once left a cushy California law practice to take on the crack cocaine dealers of Washington, D.C., is much intimidated by “tweets.” Mueller’s hunt has already yielded numerous indictments against 13 Russians and several figures close to Trump’s campaign and transition team and administration, along with a couple of guilty pleas, including one from Trump’s former national security advisor, and by now many Americans are waking up hopeful that more indictments and guilty will show up in the news.
Mueller has reportedly subpoenaed the financial records of the Trump Organization, the oxymoronic name of the president’s still wholly-owned international business empire, and God and Mueller only know what that’s likely to turn up. Our guess, based on what we’ve learned about Trump over the past several decades, is that it’s likely — oh, what the heck, standards of discourse being what they are these days, damned near certain — that there’s something pretty damned damning in those ledgers.
There are still laws on the books and an independent judiciary to enforce them, a Congress that plays some role, as well as a free press to let the public know how that turns out, and for now all of that is on Mueller’s side, so all a president can do is “tweet” about it. At least he fights, we’ll concede, but he so often leads with his chin.
There’s a convincing case to be made that the recently fired FBI official had it coming, as an independent inspector general appointed by President Barack Obama had concluded he’d been less than forthcoming on his dealings with the media during the bureau’s investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and Trump would have done well to let the “fake news” glumly report that exculpatory fact. Instead he issued that gloating “tweet” and extrapolated that it shows widespread corruption in the FBI and a rigged system that’s out to get him and that “Crooked Hillary!” is the one who should be locked up, not him. Which only fuels the “fake news” narrative that the firing was a brazenly vindictive political ploy to discredit a career civil servant and potential witness in the “Russia thing,” and intimidate any other possible witnesses, and unless you’re a die-hard fan it makes Trump look petty and mean rather than cocksure and tough.
We don’t expect any other potential witnesses will be much intimated. A couple of congressman have already offered the fired FBI official another 48 hours of gainful government employment so that he can qualify for his full pension, and he’s bound to find other opportunities. James Comey, that fired FBI director that Trump routinely impugns “tweeted” back that “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.” This is an apparent reference to a book by Comey to be released in mid-April, which is already an Amazon best-seller and moving up the charts since Trump’s “tweets,” and we expect he’ll make a convincing case for himself. Say what you want about that botched investigation of “Crooked Hillary’s” e-mails, which was as badly run as Trump Airline or the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip-club, Trump is at a disadvantage in a contest of character.
The “fake news” have plenty of actual facts to rebut the rest of the president’s conspiracy theorizing, too. He “tweeted” that the House investigative committee on the “Russia thing” had exonerated him, but that was just most of the for-now Republican majority, with the Democrats objecting, and the Senate and special counsel and free press investigations are still underway. Trump once again “tweeted” about the undeniable fact that most of Mueller’s team are Democrats and have donated to Clinton’s past campaigns, but federal law prohibits hiring based on party affiliation or past campaign donations, everyone on the team has stellar credentials regarding such worrisome matters as money-laundering and several are fluent in Russian, and Trump’s own lawyer and Trump himself have contributed “Crooked Hillary’s” past campaigns.
Trump could impulsively “tweet” that he’s decided to fire Mueller, which you know he really really wants to do, but by law he’d have to get the deputy attorney general to do it, as the Attorney General has had to recuse himself from the whole “Russia thing,” and he’d probably have to fire the Republican guy he appointed to be deputy general and find somebody willing to go down in infamy to do the deed. Anyone old enough to remember the “Saturday Night Massacre” episode of the Watergate scandal knows how messy that can be, however, and although it’s frighteningly plausible we don’t see it ending any better this time around.

— Bud Norman

In the Calm, Peaceful Eye of the Hurricane

According to The Washington Post, an anonymous White House official said that after the horrific mass shooting at a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day “A lot of people here felt it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.” It’s a morbid thought, but there might be something to it.
Prior to the tragedy all the talk was about the departure of the staff secretary who’d been kept on the job even after the administration was made aware that he couldn’t get the security clearance needed for the job because two ex-wives were accusing him of physical abuse. That led to stories about the under-oath testimony by the Federal Bureau of Investigation director that the White House had lied about when the White House had been made aware, embarrassing questions about why so many White House officials can’t get a security clearance, another story about another accused wife-beater leaving his speechwriting job, and after days of praising his staff secretary the president being hectored by the press to at long last say that he doesn’t approve of wife-beating.
President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer also admitted he paid $130,000 to a pornographic film performer who had once alleged an affair with then-reality show star Trump but stopped doing so after the payment. Then there was the story that Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer paid big money for a former Playboy centerfold model for her own exclusive and unpublished story about an affair with Trump, which she alleges occurred around the same time as the alleged affair with the porn performer, which was just months after Trump’s third wife gave birth to his fifth child. There were also stories, perhaps related, about all the visible evidence of a frosty relationship between the president and First Lady.
Once upon a time in America such titillating tales of porn performers and Playboy models and a president would have crowded even the wife-beating stories with national security implications out of the news, but by now we have a First Lady who’s done some pornographic modeling of her own and a reality show president that no one, even his most evangelical apologists, looks to for moral leadership. The leftward media that once defended President Bill Clinton’s presidential peccadillos don’t want to seem puritanical about it, so they’ve mostly focused their attention on the possible campaign law violations that are clearly implied, and it’s not the big deal it would have been back in the good old days.
After the tragedy in Florida the “Russia thing” nosed its way back into the news. Special counsel Robert Mueller obtained an indictment against 13 Russians for fraudulently running an internet propaganda campaign during the last presidential campaign that was clearly designed to benefit Trump, which came after all of the Trump appointees to all of the nation’s intelligence-gathering agencies testified under oath that they were certain the Russian government had indeed launched a sophisticated effort to influence the presidential election that included hacking into e-mail accounts and trying to hack into state vote-counting computers and spreading propaganda.
The announcement of the indictment was read by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee who is in the awkward position of overseeing Mueller’s investigation after the full-blown Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from the “Russia thing,” and he stressed that only Russians were indicted and the indictment mentioned “unwitting” Americans who might have been involved. Trump and his apologists read this as vindication in the whole “Russia thing,” but that required Trump to acknowledge that Russia’s meddling wasn’t the hoax he’d long claimed.
This was followed 14 presidential “tweets” that would have dominated a day’s news cycle in the relatively recent past. Trump blamed the school shooting on the FBI’s obsession with the “Russia thing,” blasted his national security advisor for acknowledging Russia’s meddling in the last election without mention that Trump would have won anyway, and even described Oprah Winfrey as “insecure.”
It was all too much to follow over a long President’s Day Weekend, especially with all those remarkably eloquent and righteously impassioned kids telling all the cable news networks about the tragedy they lived through, and in an odd sort of way that does somehow seem to redound to Trump’s political benefit. Those poor souls in the White House communications team charged with spinning all the various scandals might well have felt able to take a federal holiday off on Monday.
They’ll have to be back on the job today, though, as it looks to be a brief respite. The alleged wives-beaters who gained entree to the White House are already long forgotten, but the hubbub about all the White House staffers without security clearance has prompted the chief of staff to impose a new rule that will likely demote senior advisor and ambassador-at-large and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. The possible campaign violations involved in those six-figure payouts to the porn performer and Playboy model might yet wind up in court, or under the special counsel’s scrutiny, and that will keep these otherwise boring stories in the news. Mueller’s indictment not only mentioned “unwitting” American participants in the Russian campaign meddling but also referred to “persons known and unknown to the grand jury,” which has an ominous ring about it.
That tragedy in Florida doesn’t seem to be redounding to the president’s political benefit, either. Those sympathetically grieving students are remarkably eloquent and appealing — we got choked up watching one respectful and well-groomed and well-spoken senior who has already signed up for Army service even though he looks and sounds like a college man — and so far they’re winning in the public opinion polls against Trump’s un-parseable and profane and Oprah-bashing “tweets.”
We hold out hope that some solution can be found to end the ongoing problem of mass shootings without infringing on the God-given and constitutionally-protected right for a citizen to protect himself, but we expect a lot of bad news before we arrive at that happy day.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Tough Stretch of News

Although he got in another lucrative weekend of golfing and socializing at his warm and sunny Mar-a-Lago resort, the last few days have not been kind to President Donald Trump. The team owned by his best friend in the National Football League was upset in the Super Bowl, the release of a much ballyhooed congressional memo did not completely vindicate him in the “Russia thing,” and suddenly the stock markets are in a swoon.
Trump will probably get over the Super Bowl soon enough, and maybe even score some political points against the winning players who have already announced they’ll skip a White House visit, but the ongoing “Russia thing” and the recent woes on Wall Street are more troublesome.
The president had hoped that a four page memo penned by the staff of die-hard Trump apologist and California Rep. Devin Nunes would persuade the American people to to demand an end to all the ongoing investigations into the “Russia thing,” and he got his wish with a certain portion of the public. All the right wing talk radio talkers and the rest of the die-hard Trump apologists relished the unsurprising revelation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had used the “salacious and unverified” dossier of evidence compiled by a foreigner with money from the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to obtain an early warrant in the investigation from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Sean Hannity even found that sufficient reason to demand that special counsel Robert Mueller’s snooping around cease and the indictments he’s already obtained again Trump’s campaign manager another high-ranking campaign official be dropped and the guilty pleas he’s already forced from Trump’s former national security adviser and a campaign foreign policy advisor be rescinded.
Alas, the rest of the public was more skeptical and Hannity’s demands are unlikely to be met. The more Trump-skeptical media noted the memo acknowledged that the Federal Bureau of Investigation started snooping around when an Australian official tipped them off that a drunken Trump campaign foreign policy advisor had been boasting in a London Pub about all the dirt his candidate was getting from the Russians, that still-classified material other than the information compiled by a respected former British intelligence agent was also submitted to the court, and that in any case the warrants were reauthorized by other FISA courts based on the finding they were yielding important evidence. The notion of a “deep state” conspiracy against Trump to stage a “coup” with “fake news” was always a hard sell, given that it involves Republican-appointed FBI agents seeking warrants from the Republican-appointed judges on FISA courts that the Republicans established and just last week voted to renew, and the four pages that Nunes’ staffers penned didn’t make the case.
Nunes also admits that neither he nor his staffers actually read the classified case that the FBI made for its FISA warrants, and everyone who has is saying that the memo is misleading. That includes the FBI chief that Trump appointed, and the impeccably Republican South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, who was a right wing talk radio hero just a couple of years ago for his dogged investigation of Clinton’s embarrassing role in the deadly Benghazi debacle. Gowdy was the only House Republican who got too look at the classified warrant application because Nunes had been forced to more or less recluse himself from the whole “Russia thing” after some embarrassing antics, and he told the media that “There is a Russia investigation without a dossier.” Listing off a number of reasons to snoop into the “Russia thing,” he accurately noted “To the extent the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process, the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to with an email sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier really has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos’ meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn’t have anything to do with obstruction of justice.”
Gowdy is one of several Republicans who aren’t seeking reelection, so be’s free to be so frank, but even some of his partisan colleagues who are hoping for another term are also distancing themselves from the Nunes memo. Several Republicans have signaled the support of a rebuttal memo penned by California Rep. Adam Schiff, who has seen the classified warrant application and seems a far smarter fellow than Nunes, and the “Russia thing” will surely linger.
Meanwhile the stock market has been plummeting, and for now that’s an even bigger problem for Trump.
By the sometimes perverse logic of the stock markets, the bad news is being driven by good news and might turn out in the long run to be good news. After an historically long run to record levels the markets are apparently worried the currently low unemployment rates and slight upticks in economy activity and long-forestalled wage increases will cause the Federal Reserve Board to slightly raise the rates on the historically inexpensively obtained money that has been fueling it, lest inflation rear its ugly head, and there’s a strong case to be made that a long-forestalled and much-needed market corrections is needed to forestall the inevitable next crash until after you’re dead. Trump will be hard-pressed, though, to make such a complicated argument.
Trump will quite plausibly claim that the recent stock market downturn is not his fault, but his critics will provably point out that he was always willing to take credit for the recent record highs. He “tweeted” about it 56 times, boasted about it in public pronouncements far more often, including that long-forgotten State of the Union speech he gave just a week or so ago, and for now he’s deprived of a favorite bragging point. He could turn on a dime and make the populist claim that he’ll gladly trade a workingman’s pay hike for some fat-cat investor’s coupon-clipping, and brag about how he prescient he was back in the campaign when he claimed the record stock market highs of President Barack Obama’s administration were just a great big bubble about to burst, but after all the boasts about those Wall Street records and given Trump’s limited vocabulary it’s a very complicated argument to make.
The sorts of people who do grasp such complicated economic arguments immediately recognize the Fed’s complicated role in all of this, and are probably aware that Trump has recently appointed its new chairman. The previous chairman was chairwoman Janet Yellen, who was generally well regarded by by all the smart people with the smart money for her open spigot policies in the early stages of recovery from the 2008 recession and gradual reductions during the slower-than-usual but longer-than-ever recovery that lasted through Trump’s first year.
It’s a longstanding presidential tradition to appoint a generally well-regarded Fed chairman to a second term regardless of the party that had made the first appointment, but Trump isn’t much for longstanding presidential traditions and to replace Yellen with his own guy. Of course Trump chose a guy, Jerome Powell, but he’s a former under secretary for domestic finance at the Treasury Department and is widely expected to be the same sort of apolitical number-crunching policy wonk as Yellen, and along with all the stock holders we’ll be eager to see how he responds. Trump is probably wondering, too, as it will be hard to blame Yellen for a downturn that began shortly after she was replaced by Trump.
Our hope is that the stock markets and the broader economy both continue to fitfully prosper, and our expectation is that if it does Trump will take credit for it, and that if it doesn’t he’ll accept no blame. We wish Trump well with that whole “Russia thing,” too, but we hope that truth will prevail and expect that the special counsel will find plenty of it.

— Bud Norman